No, I’m not talking about the comparison of instragram selfies or how your neighbor on the mat is practicing in comparison to yours. These are not assessments of your own body. Rather, it’s reaching outside of yourself to discover where you are in your body. The problem with this, aside from “comparison being the killer of joy”, is that your anatomy doesn’t live in someone else’s body and imitation can create limitation.
In order to assess your own down dog you’ll need to take a few things into consideration:
Is it a good idea for your shoulders to be in the down dog position? Meaning, do you have the range of motion required to do the external rotation and flexion of the shoulder joint in addition to the mobility in your radius to plant your palm on the ground?
Let’s break this down by looking at the biomechanics of your shoulder. Your shoulder is in the most stable position when it’s externally rotated. That’s where your bone structure fits together in the most secure fashion. When it’s internally rotated, it becomes unstable.
So where does Down Dog go wrong?
It’s when we’re loading our shoulders in that unstable internally rotated position.
How do you know if you’re internally rotating your shoulders in downward dog?
Do this self-test to find out. It’s a different kind of selfie – you won’t likely find on instagram.
2. Now pronate (rotate to palm down) your hand without allowing movement in the shoulder. Does it go parallel to the floor (demonstrated in image below)? Or does the shoulder internally rotate and elevate while arm bows out to the side (demonstrated below and to the right)? If not your down dog will look like the third picture on the bottom left.
If you’re able to pass the initial self test, then down dog is a pose that your shoulders are prepared to move into (your back and hamstrings might be a different story – another article for another day – or better yet, come practice with us to discover more!)
If not, you’re likely going to begin seeing soft tissue damage (if you’re not seeing it already) such as inflammation, bursitis, tendonitis, rotator cuff syndrome, or even a rotator cuff tear when holding down dog.
So what’s a yogi to do?
Dolphin Supinate, or what I affectionately called dolphin sunny side up! The thumbs are rotating towards the floor and the block is simply providing space for the forearms to stay parallel.
This pose awakens the infraspinatus, teres minor, and posterior deltoids while training (or retraining) them to remember the positioning needed to support your shoulders in Downward Dog, Dolphin with the forearms parallel, and your Handstands and Forearm Balances too!
Kim is a Yoga Tune Up® certified teacher bringing awareness to all layers of your body, mind, emotions, and energy so that you can embody your body and live better!